FAQsVegetarian / Vegan
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What's the difference between 'vegan' and 'vegetarian'?
A vegetarian doesn’t eat foods that come from dead animals. It’s irrelevant whether the animal lives wild before being killed or is reared and slaughtered specifically for eating. A vegetarian won’t eat anything from any dead animal – and that includes poultry, game, fish and shellfish. Vegetarians also won’t consume foodstuffs made from slaughter by-products. So things like gelatine and rennet are off the menu.
A vegan is a type of vegetarian. As well as excluding all non-vegetarian foods, a vegan also won’t eat anything that comes from living animals. This includes foods made with the help of living animals – like honey, for instance.
Avoiding animal derived foods
Both vegetarian and vegan diets are based mainly on grains and pulses, fruit and vegetables, and nuts and seeds. A vegetarian may also include dairy produce and eggs.
A vegan will not eat dairy products, eggs, fish roe or any other foods derived from animals. Vegans tend to avoid food additives like shellac and cochineal (made from insects) and may not eat honey (made by bees) either.
Other animal products to avoid
Animal products have many other uses besides food. Vegans and some vegetarians are likely to avoid using animal derived products for any purpose.
Both typically consider the wearing of fur to be unacceptable on welfare grounds. But vegans also commonly refuse to wear leather – whether it’s used in shoes, bags, other accessories or clothes. Wool and silk come from animals too, so these are sometimes avoided as well.
If you choose to avoid wearing animal products, you’ll still have plenty of fashionable clothing and accessories lines to pick from. Like other areas of ethical fashion, vegan-friendly clothing is a thriving business.
Hair care products, cosmetics, toiletries, household cleaning supplies, vitamin supplements and other items that we use every day may not be vegetarian. And rarely will products that you pick up on the High Street be vegan.
It’s not enough for a product to declare that it’s not been tested on animals – it may nevertheless contain animal ingredients. But vegetarian- and vegan-friendly alternatives are readily available. You just need to look in the right places.
Read the labels when next out shopping for any personal grooming or household cleaning items. Or buy them online from specialist vegetarian or vegan websites.
As with food, you can also check personal and household items for the Vegetarian Society Approved trademark or the Vegan Society sunflower logo.
Each society’s website also has a search function. So you can easily look up suitable products online. You’ll then be directed to the relevant website to make your purchase, should you wish.
What nutrients do vegetarians need?
Most people can get all the nutrition they need from a balanced vegetarian diet. Other foods contain the specific nutrients you’d get from meat or fish – it’s just a matter of seeking them out. Similarly, if you don’t eat dairy products or eggs, you can make up for the goodness you’d get from these foodstuffs with other sources. View our vegetarian recipes here.
The main things you should check you’re getting enough of are: calcium, zinc, vitamin B12, vitamin D and omega fats, and protein.
Milk and dairy products are chock-full of calcium and B vitamins. If you avoid eating dairy, stock up on these nutrients elsewhere. Calcium-enriched plant based milks can help get your day off to a great start. You can then add leafy greens, dried fruit, and nuts and seeds to top up your calcium reserves.
It’s easy to lose out on iron and zinc as a vegetarian. If you eat dairy products and eggs, dive in to get your recommended daily allowance of these important minerals. Other great sources are dried fruit, nuts and seeds, pulses, and leafy green vegetables. You can also stock up on bread and breakfast cereals. Many varieties are fortified with vitamins and minerals, iron and calcium included.
Watch out also that you’re getting enough vitamin B12. Again, it’s present in dairy products and eggs. Or you can stock up on yeast extract and fortified breakfast cereals instead. To increase your intake of the other B vitamins, go for staples made of unprocessed wholemeal grain, like wholemeal rice, pasta and noodles. Seaweed (sea kale) is another great source, though it may be trickier to track down.
Vitamin D and omega fats
Much of our vitamin D comes from the sun, but it’s also possible to add it to our diet. Dairy products, and fortified breakfast cereals and margarines are good sources. Using oil made from walnuts, linseed, rapeseed and flaxseed is an easy way to add omega fats to your diet. So too are omega-enriched eggs.
There are many ways for vegetarians to get their daily dose of protein:
- Dairy products and eggs
- Nuts and seeds
- Pulses, including beans, lentils and peas
- Soya and tofu products
Fruits and vegetables don’t just provide vital supplies of vitamins. They’re also great sources of antioxidants and fibre – neither of which you can get from a supplement. It’s recommended that everyone eat at least five potions a day of fruit and veg, but vegetarians are likely to exceed this figure.
To see if your diet is as healthy as it could be, visit the Vegetarian Society website. The ‘Eatwell’ plate shows what proportion of carbohydrates, protein, fats, and fruit and vegetables you should eat for the ideal balance. Use it as your guide to healthy vegetarian eating for all the family. It’s suitable for anyone aged two and up to follow.
Even in a healthy balanced diet there’s room for a little indulgence. But many cakes, biscuits, sweets and desserts bought from shops are made using animal fat, gelatine or other non-vegetarian ingredients. You could make your own healthier treats at home to be sure exactly what it is you’re eating.
Vitamin and mineral supplements
Supplements are exactly that. They can be used to add something that’s otherwise lacking to your diet. But they can’t be used as a substitute for healthy eating. They are good, however, at providing specific additional nutrients, for example, during pregnancy, to enhance a vegan diet lacking in vitamin B12 or to boost vitamin D intake in winter months.
Always stick to the recommended dose if you do use supplements. Taking too much iron and vitamin A in particular can be harmful. And if you’re vegetarian, check that your chosen supplement is too. (Many aren’t.) Click here for Vegetarian Society Approved products.
What is a vegan?
The Vegetarian Society describes a vegetarian as someone who won’t eat foods derived from dead animals. A vegan is a vegetarian who also doesn’t eat any foods that come from or are made with the aid of living animals.
Vegans instead eat a diet rich in grains and pulses, nuts and seeds, and fruit and vegetables. Plenty of vegan substitutes for meat, eggs and dairy products are also available, making it easier than ever to enjoy a vegan lifestyle.
A vegan will not eat any of the following:
- Meat (including poultry and game)
- Any kind of fish, shellfish or fish roe (eggs)
- Slaughter by-products, including gelatine (often found in sweets and low fat yoghurt) and rennet (used to make many cheeses)
- Milk, cheese, eggs and any other foods derived from animals
- Honey (sometimes avoided)
Being a vegan might also mean avoiding the use of animal products in other areas of life. Among most vegetarians, wearing fur is unacceptable. It’s common for vegans to also not wear leather. Wool and silk may be avoided as well. Fashionable, vegan-friendly shoes, bags, accessories and clothes are becoming more and more readily available.
Reasons to become vegan can include:
- Animal welfare: around two million land animals are slaughtered every day in the UK for the meat industry. Awareness of and objections to intensive factory farming continue to grow
- Sustainability: enormous amounts of land, water and fossil fuels are needed to support the farming of livestock for the meat industry. Eating the grains and pulses grown to feed animals ourselves is a more efficient use of resources
- Health: a balanced and nutritious vegan diet can be a healthy lifestyle choice
The Vegetarian Society website is a great source of information about diet and nutrition. Vegans and vegetarians can find out more at
What is a vegan diet?
Cutting out all foods derived from animals reduces the number of sources from which you can get nutrients. So if you’re vegan, it’s especially important to make sure that the foods you do eat are packed full of goodness. View our vegan recipes here.
Since Vitamin B12 comes mainly from animal sources, finding it elsewhere is a priority for vegans. Get your share by including yeast extract and fortified breakfast cereals in your diet. You’ll find the other B vitamins in a range of non-animal foods. Day-to-day staples like wholemeal pasta, noodles and rice are good for starters. (Unprocessed varieties are the most nutritious.) You can also look out for seaweed (sea kale) to top up on B vitamins.
Vegans must also consider alternative calcium sources carefully. Plant based milks can be as rich in nutrients as they are in taste. For healthy teeth and bones, choose calcium-enriched varieties of these delicious drinks made of almonds, oats, rice, spelt or soya. Then add dried fruit, nuts and seeds, and bundles of leafy greens to your meals. You’ll soon reach your recommended daily allowance of calcium every day.
Have a look at the Vegetarian Society ‘Eatwell’ plate. It’s a great way for anyone to see at a glance what makes up a healthy balanced diet. It can be used as a guide to vegetarian or vegan eating for anyone aged over two years old. Find out now if your diet contains the right mix of carbohydrates, protein, fats, and fruit and vegetables. http://www.vegsoc.org/page.aspx?pid=779
However strict a vegetarian you are, the same general rules for healthy eating apply:
- Have at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. Choose different types and colours, and eat some cooked and some raw.
- Starchy foods should make up the bulk (a third) of most meals. Choose from bread and potatoes, pasta, rice and cereals, and pulses. Wholegrain or wholemeal varieties are best.
- Ease up on the saturated fat. But include rich sources of unsaturated fat, like vegetable oils, avocados, nuts and seeds.
- Remember your portion of protein. Nuts, pulses, soya and tofu are versatile vegan sources.
- Cut back on the sugar and salt.
- Drink up. You should gulp down around 6 to 8 glasses of water each day. If you’re very active or working out, drink more.
- Lose the oil when you cook. It’s just as easy, and much healthier, to grill, bake, microwave, poach, steam, boil or dry fry.
A full range of health and nutrition fact sheets is available from the Vegetarian Society website. It makes essential reading for all vegetarians, including vegans.
What food substitutes are available to vegans?
It’s relatively easy these days to find vegan versions of favourite foods. Check out what your local supermarket or specialist health stores has to offer. Or look online for virtual vegan stores that deliver.
You’ll find that all sorts of handy staples and goodies are available. For starters, there’s vegan cheese, yoghurt and ice cream; mayonnaise; chocolate and sweets; and sausages and chicken pieces. Many are great sources of protein and nutrients as well as flavour.
The labelling of food items as ‘vegetarian’ or ‘vegan’ is voluntary. Non-vegetarian or non-vegan ingredients should not have contaminated foods labelled as such. But not all food manufacturers and retailers will apply these labels. And where the terms are used, the definitions of ‘vegetarian’ and ‘vegan’ can sometimes be misconstrued.
If you spot something that you believe is carrying the wrong label, flag up your concerns to the Vegetarian Society or Vegan Society. The laws around the use of the terms ‘vegetarian’ and ‘vegan’ are set to tighten up in the coming years.
For now, always check the ingredients yourself to be on the safe side. Or look for the Vegetarian Society Approved stamp, which is only applied to foodstuffs that are truly vegetarian. Similarly, the Vegan Society endorses only entirely animal-free products with its easy-to-spot sunflower logo.